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Old 06-20-2009, 04:39 PM
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Default In Defense of the Red Army

I just finished Red Army by Ralph Peters, a fine novel of WWIII set in Europe. What sets this novel apart from contemporaries like Red Storm Rising and Team Yankee is that it is written entirely from the POV of its Soviet protagonists. It's very well written and focuses more on the various characters (from lowly NCOs to general officers) than on militiary technology. It doesn't reference specific weapon platforms, allowing the reader to imagine either a MiG-27 or SU-35, depending on his/her preference. It pulls no punches in examining the faults of the Soviet Military of the mid to late '80s, but it also highlights several of its comparitive strengths.

Anyway, it got me thinking about a conventional war in Europe between the Soviet Union/WTO and the U.S./NATO, circa the mid '80s or, following the v1.0 timeline, the late '90s.

A lot of folks seem to hold the opinion that the Soviet Union, even at the height of its military powers, could never have had significant successes against NATO forces in a conventional land/air war in Europe. They make several arguments to back up this assessment. I'd like to take some time to rebutt some of these arguments and then open a discussion.

1.)The Soviets had inferior military technology.

True, in almost every category of military hardware, NATO gear was superior. NATO gear has repeatedly trumped Soviet gear over the years, most recently in Iraq. But, one must keep in mind the way in which that Soviet gear was used (see point #2). And, for the most part, Iraq's Soviet/Russian gear was of the export variety, meaning that it did not have the full capabilities of the platforms used by the Soviets. In other words, a Soviet MiG-29 would have better radar, avionics, and missiles than an export model employed by Iraq or Serbia. Some Soviet systems have proven to be remarkably capable. For instance, modern Russian ATGMs were able to able to savage Israeli Merkava Mk. III and IV MBTs in Lebanon a few years back. The Merkava IV is arguably the most modern and heavily armored tank in the world and around a dozen were destroyed by Russian-made ATGMs. I believe a Soviet SAM shot down an F-117 in the Balkans. Other Soviet systems, although less capable than their NATO counterparts, have proven track records of robustness and serviceability.

2.) Soviet model armies have repeatedly been defeated by Western model armies. This proves the superiority of the Western model and the inherent inferiority of the Soviet one.

Yes, the Iraqis followed, to a degree, a Soviet model. The Iraqi army was, for all intents and purposes, a joke. It was poorly led, poorly supplied, poorly motivated, etc. This trend was also in evidence in the varios Israeli-Arab wars of the '60s and '70s, in that the Western model IDF repeatedly defeated its more numerous, Soviet model adversaries. But simply because a Soviet-backed military fell to a de facto NATO model army, does not mean that the same thing would have occured had it been the Red Army vs. NATO. This sort of "once-removed" argument is not valid. If it were, what would it say about the U.S. when the South Vietnamese, who it trained and supported with massive amounts of American hardware, were decisively defeated by the Soviet-supported North Vietnamese army?

3.) The Soviet officer corps was poor in quality, with rigid systems of command that discouraged junior officers from showing innitiative.

This is true, to some extent. Conscripted Soviet non-coms especially were of low quality, having received very little training and lacking the experience that comes with years of voluntary service. But, historically, the Soviets have shown a surprising ability to adapt and evolve under harsh battlefield conditions. The Soviet army of 1941 was slow, under-supplied, and poorly led. But, by 1944, the Soviet Army was arguably more flexible and better led than its western Allies and their German adversaries. Hitler underestimated the abilities of the Red Army. I would argue that we not make the same mistake.

4.) The Soviets suffered through a long and ultimately unsuccessful war in Afghanistan. If they couldn't defeat the Afghani Mujahadin in the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan, they couldn't possibly have defeated NATO armies on the forrested plains of Europe.

This argument doesn't hold much water. Comparing an unconventional, guerrilla war in the difficult terrain of Afghanistan with a conventional war in Europe is comparing apples and oranges. The U.S. was unable to achieve its strategic objectives in Vietnam. Four presidential administrations tried and failed to defeat the communist insurgency in Vietnam. In keeping with the arguments made by detractors of the Red Army, it follows that the U.S. and its allies, unsuccessful in Vietnam, could not have defeated the Soviet Union in Europe. Furthermore, the U.S. and its NATO allies have still not pacified/stablilized Afghanistan after nearly a decade of occupation and military operations there. Does this mean NATO could not have defeated the Red Army of the late '80s? What's even more telling is the relative superiority in technology enjoyed by U.S./NATO forces today, as compared to the Soviet Army of the 1980s.

5.) The Soviets performed badly against the Chechnyans in the mid to late '90s. This proves that the Soviet Army wouldn't have performed well against NATO.

Once again, this is the same sort of apples to oranges argument outlined in #4. And, the Russian Army that bogged down in the streets of Grozny was an army that had suffered near on a decade of financial and institutional neglect after the collapse of Soviet Communism. This was not the fully funded Red Army of the '80s. It was a severely under-funded, ad hoc military with extremely low morale and very poor training (due largely to lack of funds). Imagine if the U.S. military's funding was cut by 75-90%. Would anyone expect it to perform as well in combat as it would have at its full funding levels?

6.) Conscript armies, like the Red Army of its heyday, are inferior to volunteer armies, like those of the U.S. and most of NATO.

Once again, this is true, but to a very small degree. But look at how well the mostly conscripted Red Army performed late on in WWII. Look at the combat record of the Israeli Army, most of which is made up of conscipts and reservists (themselves former conscripts). Furthermore, one could argue that the Soviet soldier is in some ways superior to his western counterparts. He's used to living with less than most westerners. He's tough, fit, and used to deprivation, harsh discipline and following orders. Many Red Army units were responsible for producing some, if not most, of their own food. This agricultural skill/experience would prove invaluable in the later years of the Twilight War.

Also, having a largely conscript army would help streamline mobilization because many reserve and newly mobilized units would have at least rudimentary military training already, due to their earlier conscript experience.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Now, here are two more arguments in favor of the Soviet army that are often wilfully overlooked or casually dismissed.

A.) Weight of numbers. The Red Army had more of everything- men, tanks, artillery tubes, aircraft, etc. than NATO. The only area in which the opposite was true was in naval power. Even if the Soviets lost men and material at a rate 3x that of their enemies, the Red Army would still outnumber them. The Red Army's superior numbers in artillery would prove especially troublesome for NATO.

B.) Experience. By the time the Twilight War kicked off in Europe, the Red Army- especially its officer corps- would have operational and tactical combat experience from their campaign in China. As any combat veteran can tell you, there's simply no substitute for experience. Soviet general and staff officers would have invaluable hands-on experience which most of their NATO counterparts would lack.

There you have it. The arguments of a Red Army apologist. Let the debate begin!
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Last edited by Raellus; 06-20-2009 at 07:58 PM.
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Old 06-20-2009, 06:22 PM
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That was the biggest fear NATO had during the cold war. Bodies on the front-line.

They were far better geared than the WP, but the kill ratio needed to keep on top of any WP attack was something stupid like 50:1.

Now the Coalition forces in the Gulf War in 91 didn't even reach that number against a army that was basiclly in retreat by the time the ground forces got involved.

The general thought going around Germany if the cold war ever did go hot but with no nukes involved was the WP would reach the channel ports within 7 days thus stopping alot of reinforcements getting to the front.

The only way NATO would be able to stop or shall I say slow the advance would be with tac-nukes. NATO thus would be damned if they did and damned if they didn't.

Last edited by Ramjam; 06-20-2009 at 07:54 PM.
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Old 06-20-2009, 07:04 PM
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I think using the IDF conscript army as an example is a bit misleading. Without wishing to get too political, I'll just say my limited experience from the few Israeli's I've met has given me the impression that as a culture, they have a lot of self confidence. Put them in a uniform, give them top class equipment and training and convince them their homeland will be crushed if they dont fight, and its a far cry from a Soviet peasant being press ganged, fed on raw potatoes and issued with kit they soon find isn't as good as the stuff the other guy has.
The IDF may have a lot of conscripts, but they're motivated, well trained and well equipped.
The Soviets weren't, except during WW2 when their enemies thought them subhuman and ethnically cleansed them. In a very real sense they were fighting for their survival.


I prefer to think of the hypothetical Soviet invasion of Western Europe in the following terms :
Imagine the latter half of WW2, but give the Allied forces low morale and poor leadership, and the Germans naval & air superiority and remove Hitler's tactical and strategic blundering from the equation.
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Old 06-20-2009, 07:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by O'Borg
Put them [the Israelis] in a uniform, give them top class equipment and training and convince them their homeland will be crushed if they dont fight, and its a far cry from a Soviet peasant being press ganged, fed on raw potatoes and issued with kit they soon find isn't as good as the stuff the other guy has.
It sounds like you're referring to the modern IDF. The IDF of 1948-1967 was equipped with cast-off, second-grade weapons and equipment (Shermans, Super Mysteres and essentially stolen Mirages, FN battle rifles, etc.). That they did as well as they did against the lavishly Soviet-equipped armies of the Arab states speaks volumes about the average Israeli's (of that generation, at least) fighting prowess. I guess that kind of proves your point, huh? That said, your description of the average Soviet conscript sounds like it was given by a Wermacht staff officer during the planning for Operation Barbarossa. That was a bit of a mistake back then. I don't think it's very wise to make that mistake again. See my next response to your argument.

In more recent times, the technologically superior IDF has had trouble with guerilla-style adversaries (The second Lebanon War and the recent fighting in Gaza). This has been with 100% air superiority.

Quote:
Originally Posted by O'Borg
The Soviets weren't, except during WW2 when their enemies thought them subhuman and ethnically cleansed them. In a very real sense they were fighting for their survival.
I'm sure that the Soviet propaganda apparatus would whip up the Red Army with reminders of what a unified, militarily aggressive Germany was capable of doing to Mother Russia. After West German army (in the v1.0 timeline) crossed the frontier into East Germany, I think your average Soviet soldier (or prospective soldier) would have little trouble finding the motivation to fight hard on their western front. Plus, as I mentioned in my original post, some Red Army units would already have combat experience from China (and some officers and non-coms would have served in Afghanistan). I really don't think the image of press-ganged, potato-eating, simpletons is entirely fair or accurate, especially by the time the Twilight War kicked off in Europe.

Quote:
Originally Posted by O'Borg
I prefer to think of the hypothetical Soviet invasion of Western Europe in the following terms :
Imagine the latter half of WW2, but give the Allied forces low morale and poor leadership, and the Germans naval & air superiority and remove Hitler's tactical and strategic blundering from the equation.
This is an interesting way of looking at it. I'm still not sure, given the conditions you listed, that the Germans could have achieved more than an operational stalemate against the massive weight of Allied men and material. That's kind of what we're looking at in the later stages of the Twilight War.
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Last edited by Raellus; 06-20-2009 at 07:46 PM.
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Old 06-20-2009, 09:36 PM
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I'm with you Raellus in thinking that the Red Army would've been a lot harder to defeat than people think. Too often people are pointing at the rapid decline seen in the 90s and early 2000s as "proof" that the Soviet Union was a hollow shell of military power. I think those times were more indicative of the degradation that occurs when national morale coupled with massively suffering economy did to the military. Those things wouldn't have occurred in the middle of a war like the Twilight war.


And the general lack of "awesomeness" by our forces in Kosovo against Serbian forces seems to support my idea that: on the desert, we're something to be feared with our gadgetry, but put us in the mountains, with low clouds and forests and AAA and an enemy who's not stuck on open, flat ground and we're not the super amazingness that we appear in the desert. We're good, no doubt, but we're not going to inflict the massive losses that we saw in the desert. An awful lot of tanks, vehicles and men left Kosovo after some 60 days of constant air strikes.

Against the Soviets we would have suffered many more losses against many more foes.
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Old 06-21-2009, 05:43 AM
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Agreed. Nobody can say for certain what would happen, but I don't think it would be a decisive victory for NATO.

Often the centerpiece of the counter argument that the WP would fail miserably is by relating a hypothetically WW3 with what happening in both Iraq wars. I feel that is a poor comparison and isn't evidence at all.

Anything else I'd add would be simply echoing your statements.
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Old 06-23-2009, 04:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Raellus
I just finished Red Army by Ralph Peters, a fine novel of WWIII set in Europe. What sets this novel apart from contemporaries like Red Storm Rising and Team Yankee is that it is written entirely from the POV of its Soviet protagonists.
I read that book years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The thing that really stood out for me was that it really did show a different point of view. Some examples that I can remember:

The political officers were respected and liked by the enlisted men (whereas they're generally portrayed as disliked or hated by the officers)

I've often read that Soviet soldiers performed well in WW2 because they were defending their homeland, and their performance in a war of conquest was likely to be less impressive. In Red Army, the soldiers believed that Germany had invaded (again), and so they were fighting to defend their homeland, as far as they knew.

Another thing that has always stuck in my mind was the general fighting to get fuel to the tank force that had broken through the NATO lines. He was much less concerned about ammunition, as long as they got fuel. His rationale was that if you see a tank, you don't know whether it's got 3 or 30 rounds for the main gun, so most people will react as though it's got a full load of ammunition.

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Old 06-23-2009, 06:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by avantman42
I read that book years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The thing that really stood out for me was that it really did show a different point of view.
It certainly did, Russ. Another example I appreciated is how some of the junior officers portrayed in the book took it upon themselves to show significant tactical and operational innitiative. Too often, in the West, the Red Army has been portrayed as a blunt instrument which could be neutralized by NATO simply by taking out its general officers and command and control nodes. Junior officers and NCOs were portrayed as having little or no independent command authority. I think that, to some degree, this was wishful thinking and more a critique of the Soviet system in general than of the Soviet military.

On the other hand, the performance of the Russian army in the Chechnyan conflict seems to support detractors of the Soviet officer corps. But, as I've argued before, the Russian Federation military of the mid-'90s was a mere shadow of the Cold War Soviet military. Many within its bloated officer corps had been retired or cashiered as had many experienced junior officers in noncoms. What remained truly was a blunt instrument.
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Old 06-23-2009, 06:05 PM
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As for the tactical/strategic nuclear discussion...

I agree that certain systems were designed and intended for certain purposes. There are definitely nuclear weapons systems that can accurately be termed tactical, operational, or strategic.

I think for the purposes of this debate, though, that the type of target must also be considered in deciding how to classify a particular nuclear strike.

For tactical strikes, I'm thinking about major troop concentrations close to the front, bridgeheads, static defense lines, major crossroads immediately behind the FEB, and, technically, enemy tactical nuclear assets.

For operational strikes: transportation, logistical, and communications hubs, corps and army level HQs, and enemy operational nuclear assets.

For strategic strikes: the enemy's strategic nuclear assets (i.e. ICBM silos and SSBN pens, strategic nuclear strike command and control centers), concentrations of raw materials essential to the war effort, oil refineries, major port facilities, industrial centers, and major population centers.

In canon, it seems that this progression was followed pretty closely.

Anything missing or misplaced?
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Last edited by Raellus; 06-23-2009 at 06:32 PM.
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Old 06-23-2009, 07:29 PM
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Is there any real reason why thanksgiving day (a date really only relevant to Americans) is so significant?
Sure it was the first day nuclear strikes were made on North America, but dozens, even hundreds (thousands might be pushing it) of nukes had been fired in the preceeding five months all across the world.
Thanksgiving day, although an important date of it's own, was not the first time long range strategic strikes were made. Neutral countries had already felt the scorching fire of attack by then, fire inflicted upon them by both sides of the conflict.

I'm not interested in provoking anyone, but I feel the increasing focus on what happened to, with, by and against the USA and it's forces is clouding the issue and ignoring the fact that many, many other countries have what could be considered to be more important dates on the "Twilight nuke calendar".
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Old 06-24-2009, 12:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Legbreaker
Is there any real reason why thanksgiving day (a date really only relevant to Americans) is so significant?
Sure it was the first day nuclear strikes were made on North America, but dozens, even hundreds (thousands might be pushing it) of nukes had been fired in the preceeding five months all across the world.
Thanksgiving day, although an important date of it's own, was not the first time long range strategic strikes were made. Neutral countries had already felt the scorching fire of attack by then, fire inflicted upon them by both sides of the conflict.

I'm not interested in provoking anyone, but I feel the increasing focus on what happened to, with, by and against the USA and it's forces is clouding the issue and ignoring the fact that many, many other countries have what could be considered to be more important dates on the "Twilight nuke calendar".
I think there are three reasons that the Thanksgiving Strikes are important. First, its the first use of ICBMs and modern SLBMs (older Soviet & NATO SLBMs were tasked with theater strikes). Prior to that point, the nuclear exchange had been carried out with tactical and theater/operational weapons. IMHO, the Soviets had not used silo-based missiles prior to that point.

Second, the Thanksgiving Day strikes were the transition between the operational targets Raellus listed above and strategic targets (with the caveat, again IMHO, that I would consider major ports in Europe to be operational targets). This is a grey area, as there is no clear dividing line for the Soviets between tactical, operational and nuclear strikes when they all land on Soviet territory - but going along the progression of escalation laid out in canon I could see how it could be reasonably argued that NATO would not have struck strategic targets (ICBM fields in Ukraine, the Kharkov tank plant, early warning radars in Western Ukraine) in the USSR prior to the TDM, even though they could have using tactical or operational weapons. Likewise, while the UK may have been struck prior to the TDM (I don't have the Survivor's Guide to the UK with me right now) the strikes on the royal family (a decidely strategic target) occurred on Thanksgiving Day too, again implying that the targets changed from an emphasis to destroying forces in contact (tactical targets) and the means to support and control them (operational targets) to destroying the enemy's ability as a nation to make war (strategic targets).

Third, I disagree with your assertion that the nuclear conflict had spread worldwide, to both nuetral and belligerent nations, prior to the TDM. I think the importance of the TDM is that it is the date at which the conflict does become worldwide. When you look at the list of tactical and operational targets, there are very few of them that nuetrals possess that are useful to beligerants. (And the few are, again IMHO, mostly French - ports, Pluton missiles, transport facilities, all of which it could be reasonably argued France had cut off NATO's access to when they withdrew from NATO). And while canon states that both NATO and the Pact strike nuetral nations once things "go strategic", IMHO most of those strikes are by the Soviets simply because the USSR is essentially surrounded (except for possibly a tenuous supply line across the Mediterranean the Soviets face NATO or NATO-allied troops on the west, south, southeast and east, and the sea lanes from the north lead through NATO controlled waters) so they are unable to receive any war material from nuetral nations - the only beneficiery of nuetral nation's raw materials, energy supplies and export arms are NATO or NATO-allied nations. (Much of the vaunted imported crude oil coming to the US is imported by pipeline from Mexican and Canadian oilfields - so prior to the Mexican invasion the only nation with a reason to nuke Mexico would be the Soviets).

I'm sorry if we give the impression of being US-centric. There are a couple reasons for this. First, all the folks in the DC group are Americans and we prefer to work on things we know best, to avoid making blunders with assumptions about other countries - look at the reception that the Survivors Guide to the UK receives from the Brits here. Rainbow is doing a wonderful job with a more local perspective on things, and we're trying to coordinate our effort with his, and Deacon and Fusilier have provided us valuable input on Canada. Second, the amount of documentation that is available for us to research is greatest about the US, with the USSR a somewhat close second. This allows us to go into much greater detail.
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